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Illusions of Safety ARC 2011

by Art on

Note: As an update to this article, we did successfully return to Europe from Antigua directly to Horta, Azores and then onto the Mediterranean all by ourselves (OMG!) taking 15 days to the Azores and another 6 days onto the Estepona, Spain. The ARC Europe group left one day behind us and went all the way to Bermuda (to pick up some Americans sailing to Europe) and took over a month for the same transit. Glad we did it by ourselves!

One of the many seminars during the preparation before the ARC Last November I completed the ARC 2011, a 'rally for cruisers' that has been going on for 26 years. The ARC was created by Jimmy Cornwell to provide a way for people who needed help crossing the Atlantic to benefit from the experience of those that already had. A valiant and worthwhile endeavor for a man with incredible experience to pass along. Over the years, thousands of sailors have successfully participated. A number of years ago the franchise of the ARC was sold to a group in the UK and I believe the timbre and focus of the event has changed.

Knowing I wanted to cross the Atlantic in 2011 I signed up for the ARC in January and during the next nine months preceding our arrival in Las Palmas di Gran Canaria (where the ARC launches from every year), I received an ARC flag, a binder of helpful notes about preparation and a number of newsletters. They also sent invitations to various seminars taking place in the UK.

Background

Just so you know, my sailing experience prior to doing the ARC was three weeks of sailing courses to obtain my RYA Tidal Coastal Skipper rating followed by picking up our yacht in Sweden with a instructor and sailing it to the Mediterranean. I don't have years of experience at this sort of thing and started out very much a 'noobie'

Information

The binder filled with information was indeed useful and documented many marinas, suppliers and others supporting the ARC. I took a hint from one such suggestion and took a RYA Long Range Radio Course to make sure I was ready to handle the SSB radio tasks onboard. They also listed the safety equipment they wanted to have onboard each yacht as well as some useful articles about picking crew, creating watch schedules, etc.

Enroute to Gran Canaria

For a group that has been around over 26 years the number of 'participating marinas' who would provide a discount if you stopped by was less than ten. We came all the way from Sweden, around Gibraltar and into southern Spain and never ran into one marina that recognized our ARC flag nor offered a discount on anything.

Las Palmas

Once we arrived in Las Palmas di Gran Canaria, we checked in with the ARC folks and got a list of the events, seminars, etc. occurring over the following weeks. We also scheduled our safety check and this is where things started to go awry a bit.

Illusions

Despite the mandatory 'safety' checks each yacht has to pass they had us sign waivers to absolve them of any responsibility for anything they said or did. So they insist on compliance with their safety recommendations but then force you to sign away any responsibility they might have for what they tell you do. A lot of people might toss this off (as they do) as "that's the world we live in". I say it's hypocritical.

It's also hypocritical as they were easily passing older, more marginal boats with poor safety equipment while giving the newer yachts a hard time on small issues (like strapping a knife somewhere in the cockpit instead of wearing it on your belt). We constantly ran into 'inspectors' who would say 'just do it this way for now, then do whatever you want after I step off the boat'.

The ultimate illusion is what happens enroute and what they provide in the way of safety and support for your crossing. The answer is that once you depart Las Palmas, you are very much on your own. Yes, there are other boats around (you never see them but could call for help if you need it), but no ARC officials. I should note there are always boats crossing the Atlantic in both directions so having boats around is not unique to the ARC crossing.

Issues while crossing

We were supposed to get daily weather and position reports but throughout the event it was a rare day when they showed up on time and some days not at all. For the amount of money I spent on satphone charges to access the internet to not find their reports waiting for me I could have hired a weather service to send me the information. Likewise, my wife watching the event at home, sent me our position against the group in email which proved to be far more reliable than the ARC reports when they showed up. After 26 years of the ARC group doing this, it should be bulletproof at this point.

Value

Estimated Costs

ARC Flag
£4
Info Binder
£30
ARC Flag
£20
UK Seminars
???
Las Palmas Seminars
???
Free Beer
0
Parties
0
SSB Nets
0
WRI Enroute Weather
0
Yellowbrick Tracker
£50
Total
£104

OK, I'll list what the ARC provided along with my estimate on what their cost most likely was. Note, they charged me £1100 for our boat and crew of four so weigh this cost against the benefits listed to the right.

There are several items I list as having no cost to them. I don't know this for sure but I do know the free beer and parties were sponsored by local businesses or Las Palmas Visitor Bureau and I'm sure they paid for most of it. The weather service I'm sure did this for the recognition of working with the ARC (at least their ads promoted themselves in this fashion). As for costs in putting on seminars, I can't estimate that well either as I didn't attend an of them in the UK. The Las Palmas seminars were put on in the hotel where the ARC staff stayed and were given by members of the staff for the most part. While adequate and provided the appropriate material, this information was really something you should ahve learned before arrival in Las Palmas, not in a one-hour session days before you depart for the Caribbean.

Perhaps it's just me, but it did seem really cheap to not include at least one ARC tee shirt for each crew member as you had to buy your own and pay for your own dinner parties they wanted you to attend as well.

There were at least twenty ARC people in yellow polos running around all the time and they stayed at the posh 5-star hotel in town so life must be treating them all well. They were in a similar hotel in St. Lucia as well. A very visible use of your money by the ARC group in my opinion.

Summary

While the original intent of the ARC was valiant, I'm afraid it's 'morphed' into a business whose priority is to make money and who's bound up in legal protocool and selling false illusions of safety. Make no mistakes, this is a money-making venture whose payroll and expense budget is covered by your entry fees. Personally, the £1100 I gave them would have been way better spent on fuel/provisions/crew's salary, etc. The World ARC provided very little in tangible benefits in my opinion and I wont' use them on the next Atlantic crossing.

In fact, I'll be doing the return to Europe 'solo' (without the 'support' of the ARC) in a few weeks. Follow along to see how we fair without the 'hand-holding' the ARC would have provided had we signed up with them to do the return.

If you are considering doing the ARC you should really ask yourself if you would do this on your own. If not, then you are not ready to cross the Atlantic. If you want some help in crossing you would be better off, in my opinion, to hire a professional skipper to assist you rather than spending money on the ARC.

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Comments so far

  • comment from Rupert Drexel Rupert Drexel on April 25, 2012

    Hello Art, All the best for your return trip. Will you be spending the summer in the Med? Kind regards, Rupert

  • comment from Art Art on April 24, 2012

    @Rupert, by the time I crossed the Atlantic, I already had 4'000 nm of sailing so the boat was familiar by then. I also had my instructor onboard and a couple others who had sailing experience. Crossing the Atlantic at this latiude is pretty much all downwind sailing with the wind behind you so it's pretty easy. Aside from the occasional squall with rain and wind for a bit, the passage over is not that bad. We are preparing to return in a few weeks and the North Atlantic is a bit more to contend with.

  • comment from Rupert Drexel Rupert Drexel on April 24, 2012

    Hello Art, I am wondering about your sailing skills. Just 3 weeks of sailing courses, then buying a 54 HR and afterwards crossing the atlantic. That deserves great respect. I have nearly the same intentions, but before crossing the atlantic, I would like to spend one season in the Med. All the best and fair winds. Kind regards, Rupert P.S. I am from Bavaria, Germany